Lisa McGee’s much vaunted ‘Derry Girls’ hits our screen on Channel 4 tonight.
The former Thornhill girl has drawn on her experiences of growing up in 90s Derry for the show, which has been likened to a mix between Father Ted and The Inbetweeners.
Creator of ‘Raw’ and ‘London Irish’, Lisa has a string of TV and film credits to her name and is in demand for both her comedy and thriller scripts.
She now lives in Balham with husband and two-year-old son, but makes frequent trips home where many of her best friends still live.
Lisa took time out of her busy writing schedule yesterday to have a chat with MARIANNE FLOOD about why the show is so close to her heart and the importance of writing a female lead comedy.
Is the lead character of Erin the aspiring writer based on you?
She’s the central character who really connects everyone.
It’s loosely based on me, my family and my friends.
Some of them have seen the first two episodes at a small screening we had in Derry- my parents and school friends. And they enjoyed it, thank God.
Does it reflect your own school days?
I was at Thornhill, which was a convent school as well.
I remember that feeling of laughing till you think you are going to die.
A lot of the time it would happen when you can’t laugh. When you’re in trouble or you think you’re in trouble.
It’s painful as well as really joyful at the same time.
Are you still good friends with the girls you went to school with?
My school friends are still my best friends.
I still find that nobody can make me laugh like they can.
They totally get you because they grew up with you.
There’s still a gang of us. We live in different places now, but a lot of them are still in Derry.
Do you think the show reflects Derry at that time?
I was saying to someone yesterday that we had a balance to strike.
We wanted someone who would have been growing up then to recognise it, but at the same time we can’t have someone from Glasgow or London getting lost. I hope we’ve found the right balance.
Did the actors have any problems mastering the Derry accent?
Everyone really got it.
Saoirse Jackson and Jamie Lee O’Donnell (Erin and Michelle in the show) who are from Derry were with the rest of the cast 24/7.
They lived together in an apartment and I lived above them.
They are all friends now - a real wee gang. They are lovely and so supportive of each other.
It’s great to have so many young women come together like that and really carry each other.
And Dylan (who plays James), the English guy is like an honorary ‘Derry Girl’ now.
Do you think teenagers have a different experience growing up now in the world of social media?
I think it’s a universal experience but now it’s hard in a different way- you’re getting embarrassed on a bigger platform.
I was saying to my husband the last time I was home, we were outside the Strand Cinema waiting for a lift, and I was saying I remembered standing there when I was a teenager waiting for my friends and if people turned up, they turned up. And if they didn’t you didn’t know what happened to them.
I was asked by a journalist recently did I go to night clubs when I was that age, but we actually used to meet up and go to Stewart’s in the Waterside and hang about the shopping centre. I remember getting dressed up to go and hang about the Richmond Centre!
Are you meeting up with friends or family to watch the first episode?
Well we already had that at the premiere so I’ll watch it quietly and just enjoy it.
I’m always nervous watching things but this will be the worst.
You don’t get that many chances to do something like this and there’s a lot of pressure.
It’s the first time there had been something like this- a Northern Ireland based comedy with so many female leads.
I want people to see that female leads can carry a show as well.
Was it a difficult sell to get Channel 4 to commission a show comedy based in Derry?
I wrote the pilot script and they just responded to the work.
I don’t like ‘selling’ a show, I like writing a script. And they got it which was great.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve got a few different bits and pieces.
I’m writing about a thriller and I’m thinking about another comedy.
I’ve always got a few different things on the go.
When did you film Derry Girls?
We finished filming in July and then you go into an edit.
Weirdly, it feels like yesterday and ages ago all at the same time.
You are filming all day every day six days a week.
Did your parents recognise you in the character of Erin?
There was one thing in the show that my mother didn’t know about when it happened. One of my friends told her about it recently.
I was sitting, at the age I am now, trying to explain to my mother about the time we had Sambucca in the house!
I think they enjoyed watching it and working out who is who.
Filming was split between Belfast and Derry, how much of it was filmed here in the city?
Every episode has something filmed in Derry.
Every important scene, we made sure it was filmed in Derry.
There’s a lot you will recognise and hopefully people will like it!
Derry Girls will broadcast on Channel 4 tonight, Thursday January 4,at 10pm.
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